International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 3

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview

PARKINSON'S LAW. The proposition that work expands to fill the time made available for its completion. The idea was first set out formally by the British social theorist and political scientist, C. Northcote Parkinson, in his book Parkinson's Law, published in 1957. Like a number of popular studies, its main function is to suggest that the more severe theorists of management practice ought not to take themselves too seriously. Parkinson was what used to be called an Admiralty civil servant: a British official seconded to the Royal Navy. It was during an investigation of work practices in the British Naval Service that he became impressed by the phenomenon expressed in the principle that was ever after to bear his name. Regardless of management structure or an incentive or reward-based system, individuals seemed to make their own choices as to how fast a job could be completed. The work would be completed on time -- the "time" being defined as the moment when adverse effects would be visited upon the employee for late delivery. As interesting is Parkinson's analysis of how employees respond to repeated difficulties in meeting deadlines. In effect, Parkinson argues that employees conspire against their employers by increasing the size of the hierarchy, aggrandizing their own position in the process, at the expense of those who pay them. He tended to assume that supervisors tended to conspire against the employer; that employees (acting individually or in concert) would injure themselves to the point where the paymaster is brought to the brink of bankruptcy; that less spent on wages will maximize profits. While challenging, none of these are selfevidently true. Parkinson, as with many who have a particular insight -- in this case the one that is encapsulated in the definition above -- took the point too far in his published theoretical work, to the extent where other theorists had more to say on the questions that he was addressing. Unlike them, however, he has achieved his own immortality. PETER FOOT
Parkinson, C. N., 1957. Parkinson's Law and Other Studies in Administration. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

PARLIAMENTARY APPROPRIATION. The appropriation by a parliament of a government's proposed budget, based on strict conformity to legislative processes through which executive proposals are examined and, if appropriate, amended before being granted legal authority; or, in a more restricted sense, the approval process for the internal budget of a parliament itself. The latter process varies considerably among parliamentary systems, displaying different degrees of legislative independence and financial autonomy. Generally, the greater the degree of financial autonomy, the greater the degree of independent parliamentary control over an executive's budget proposals. Thus the state of the former provides clues on the effectiveness of the latter.

Appropriation processes are typically reactive, involving parliamentary consideration of budget proposals or estimates initiated by an executive. Parliaments vary in their formal emphasis, but a common convention is to have the estimates detailed so that they are allocated to identifiable activities or programs, with separate "votes" or units of appropriation each attracting separate legislative endorsement. The specific articulation of program aims serves a traditional parliamentary purpose, even in the era of program budgeting: governments may spend public money only on those activities or programs duly authorized by parliament.

British parliamentary history displays the basic appropriation function that is adapted to different structures in different parliamentary systems. From its earliest meetings, the House of Commons was convened and constituted in response to the demands of executive governments, for whom periodic parliamentary consent was the necessary price of their continued legitimacy. At first the Crown, then later cabinet executives, accepted that their popular legitimacy required that access to public money rests on the consent and taxation authority of a popular body. Faced with requests for their consent, parliaments soon appreciated that their greatest power was the threat of refusal of "supply" to a needy executive. Armed with this ultimate power of refusal to open the public purse, parliaments became the basic authority over the supply of public expenditure to government.

Fundamental to the grievances listed in the Bill of Rights of 1689 is that the executive levied money "by pretence of prerogative . . . in other manner, than . . . was granted by Parliament." But there is a world of difference between a constitutional requirement for government appropriations by annual consent of Parliament and an institutional capacity to control the budget process. The model is one of informed consent rather than of initiative and control. Parliamentary systems have tended to follow the British lead in establishing a consolidated fund, a system of annual estimates with audited accounts, and control facilities of the kind represented by a parliamentary public accounts committee and an independent auditor-general reporting directly to Parliament. As reactive mechanisms, these facilities are only as good as the information provided by the initiating executive.

Executive governments have retained primary control over the policy directions of funds appropriated. Parliaments are presented with a bill of charges, and typically


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International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editorial Board *
  • Title Page *
  • L 1241
  • M 1323
  • N 1471
  • O 1517
  • P 1597
  • Q 1875


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